Yesterday as we sat around the dinner table celebrating the birthday of my oldest son, he and his wife along with my other adult children were talking about the differences between their generation (Gen Y) and my generation (the Baby Boomers) and where we fell short along with where they are falling short. I was surprised at how complimentary they were to what my generation had done and how candid they were about their own generation’s shortcomings.
I couldn’t help but reflect on our conversation last night when this morning I came across a study conducted by the authors of the book, Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, by authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant. I’ve long felt that the command-and-control form of leadership I was introduced to when I entered the workforce isn’t very effective today and the authors argue that things like transparency, a willingness to experiment (even if it means the occasional failure), an openness to diverse perspectives, and the ability to embrace change are more valuable traits than holding people accountable, leveraging best practices, personal charisma, or commanding loyalty from employees. In fact, in a survey they conducted last fall, with the exception of the number one trait (Provides clear direction) of the top five leadership traits identified by respondents, four of them are what Notter and Grant would consider “social” leadership traits. I think this is worth talking about whether you’re working with Gen-Y, Gen-X, or the Baby Boomers. In order:
- Provides clear direction (76%) I think this would be part of anyone’s list of the top leadership skills. There’s no question, giving clear direction is a “must have” leadership skill. In order for people to succeed, they need to know how we define success. I once heard Tom Peters suggest that all failures are leadership failures. He didn’t pull any punches. What’s more, I think he might be right. Although this first trait isn’t what Notter or Grant would call a social leadership trait, I think it belongs on the top of the list too.
- Embraces change (65%) The paradigm we work with today is decidedly different than it was when I entered the workforce. We need to be willing to embrace change as the workplace changes, the workforce changes, and they way we market and sell our products and services change. We live in a world where smartphones and other technologies instantaneously share information about us and our companies whether we like it or not. Unfortunately, this causes us to ever adapt to the face of a changing marketplace. I’m convinced if we are unwilling to adapt and change to what many people call the “new normal,” we run the risk of becoming obsolete and irrelevant. The ability to embrace change is critically important.
- Transparent, shares information freely (59%) A few years back I was in a November meeting discussing how our team had executed on some corporate initiatives none of us had heard about. With about six weeks left, there wasn’t much time for us to positively impact whether or not we successfully reached our objectives. I understand why leaders want visibility into what people are doing and how those activities roll up into business goals and objectives, but without transparency into what those objectives are and why they are important, it’s difficult to fully maximize the efforts of the workforce. People want to contribute to something meaningful and bigger than they are—the ability to share a meaningful message and inspire people with a vision and mission is another “must have” leadership trait.
- Values experimentation and even failure (59%) People are going to fail—and you want them to. When failure is the result of pushing boundaries in pursuit of innovative solutions to customer problems, companies learn, grow, and create products and services that change the market. If your company never experiences a failure, it means you are playing it safe and running the risk of becoming irrelevant. I know this might sound contrary to my comments above, but the failure I’m talking about here is a little different. When teams fail because they are pushing the envelope it’s a tad bit different than when teams fail because what they are trying to accomplish is unclear.
- Open to diverse perspectives (52%) A “My way or the highway” attitude is a recipe for disaster. One of my first employers was fond of saying, “I am the King. Do it my way and even if it’s wrong, you’ll be OK.” This was a very short-sighted approach to getting things done. In a transparent working environment, where people understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, people are often able to come at problems from a different paradigm and create new and innovative solutions to solve problems. What’s more, while most people will languish in the former environment, they will thrive in the latter.
In addition to the findings outlined above, there are lots of interesting data points included in the survey. I think it’s safe to say that social media is nothing new, but the impact it’s having on how we lead organizations and interact with people can’t be ignored. Over the last few years I’ve worked with a number of Millennials, as well as Gen-Xers, and Baby Boomers. I’m convinced that what the authors would call a “social” leadership style might be the best way to work with Gen-Y, it’s also the best way to create a positive and collaborative work environment for their older colleagues too.
Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business best practices, tips and advice accessible by weaving personal experiences, historical references and other anecdotes into relevant discussions about leading people, managing a business and what it takes to be successful. Ty also shares his passion for small business every week on Forbes.com